I try to read as little as possible before embarking on a new film journey. All I knew about The Onion Field was it starred the brilliant James Woods as a messed up ex-con. What I wasn’t expecting was a James Woods jive talking, silver toothed, wannabe big time gangster, lunatic. He plays Gregory Ulas Powell a disturbed fast talking criminal who terrifies his new recruit to join him, a gullible recently released convict called Jimmy Lee ‘Youngblood’ Smith played by Franklyn Seales.
What I didn’t expect was a true life crime drama retelling the real events from a case which started way back in 1963. From the crime to the court cases, this film takes in the accounts of the whole unfortunate events from that one fateful day. Recounting the steps from a true crime novel written in 1973 by Joseph Wambaugh.
Tagline – What Happened In The Onion Field Is True. But The Real Crime Is What Happened After..
I won’t go into the specifics of the case as I try to give as little film spoiler points on my posts as possible. I will say it’s pretty tough going but you do get rewarded with some little cameos and superb performances.
Ted Danson plays Detective Ian Campbell and the opening scenes have him playing the bagpipes in an old jail cell. “Just bouncing a few notes off the walls” he declares to his partner Detective Karl Hettinger played by John Savage who really just wants to be on a small farm growing tomatoes.
Vilos Cohaagen turns up from Total Recall aka Ronny Cox playing Sergeant Pierce R. Brooks. You get a saucy minx called Lollipop, Greg’s little girl, played by Beege Barkette. Also look out for Q from Star Trek Next Generation aka John De Lancie and old Doc Brown himself Christopher Lloyd. Oh and Blade Runner’s William Sanderson pops in as a young con.
Tagline – A True American Tragedy Captured on Film!
All in all it’s a very harrowing account of a nasty crime and the messed up law and order politics of the time and you would hope lessons were learnt? I very much doubt it though.
Fun Fact – Brazilian samba jazz funk superstar Eumir Deodato composes the soundtrack but keeps the funky grooves to a minimum. His version of the 2001 Also Sprach Zarathustra is still totally badass.
Further reading about the case.